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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

BU: Evidence of CTE Found in Brains of Deceased Football Players

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was diagnosed post-mortem in a high proportion of former football players whose brains were donated for research, including 110 of 111 National Football League players, according to a recent study co-authored by the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

CTE is a progressive neurodegeneration associated with repetitive head trauma, and football players may be at increased risk of long-term neurological conditions, particularly CTE, the study authors said in a recent JAMA article.

Dr. Ann McKee of the CTE Center and VA Boston Healthcare System and colleagues conducted a study that examined the brains of 202 deceased former football players to determine neuropathological features of CTE through laboratory and clinical examinations and by collecting players’ detailed histories. Among the 202 players (median age at death was 66), CTE was neuro-pathologically diagnosed in 177 (87 percent) who had had an average of 15 years of football participation.

Study co-author Dr. Jennifer Weuve, associate professor of epidemiology at BUSPH, said the only way to definitively diagnose CTE is through brain autopsy, which makes it “extraordinarily challenging to quantify the burden of CTE on the population of football players, much less on the general population.

“This study, the largest of its kind, involved a convenience sample of donated brains of former players,” she explained. “Such a design may seem primitive when compared with the modern world of sophisticated study designs. But case series open the conversation, constructing the outlines of a condition’s existence and generating momentum and direction for the next steps.”

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